Great high school wresting programs in Washington seemingly peak high, have their run of state championships and eventually take a dip.
For whatever reason, Lake Stevens High School has shown uncanny consistency – at least in the 25 years of the Mat Classic era at the Tacoma Dome.
Sweeping three championship finals only piled it on Saturday night, when the Vikings captured their ninth Mat Classic championship – the most of any school in the state.
And despite being young in lineup spots – and possibly too nice, at least according to their coach – this was one of Lake Stevens’ finest showings at a state tournament.
The Vikings scored 162 points, well ahead of defending Class 4A champion Tahoma (120) and Graham-Kapowsin (1131/2).
University (142 1/2 points) won its third title – but first in 3A. But the Titans limped home in the championship round, losing their first three matches before Tanner Orndorff clinched enough points with his 7-2 decision over Southridge’s Kevin Del Angel at 195 pounds to hold of Decatur (1381/2 points).
Deer Park’s five-year reign atop 2A is over, courtesy of Othello. Granger won its first 1A crown. After finishing as the 2004 runner-up, Liberty Bell finally took home a state title – in 1B/2B. And the Warden girls ended Sedro-Woolley’s four-year run as state champion.
North Kitsap’s Jake Velarde became the 11th Washington wrestler to win four Mat Classic titles – but first in overtime as a senior. He held off Fife’s Maverick Reddaway, 3-1, for the 138 championship in 2A.
All seven of The News Tribune’s “Untouchables” captured Mat Classic championships Saturday.
Off in a corner outside the wrestling arena, Lake Stevens coach Brent Barnes was as cool as a 7-11 Slurpee. His team had created so much space between itself and the field Friday, winning the title became a foregone conclusion.
But Barnes was asked why his program is truly the model of consistency in Washington.
He noted that he had the same assistant coach – Dean Width – since he started in 1987-88. His son, Burke – also a Mat Classic four-time champion for Lake Stevens – has given his father another feeder program with the Pin City club.
“We are not the ‘Permian (Texas) of wrestling,” Barnes said. “Kids here are not dying to wrestler. We value football and basketball in our community just as much.
“We still have to work our tails off. And we’ve done a good job of maintaining the structure of our program.”
It helps when he has a senior like Eric Soler. In a matchup of reigning Class 4A state champions in the 145 finals Saturday, Soler scored a takedown with 10 seconds remaining to pull out a 3-2 victory over Graham-Kapowsin’s Ian Steen.
Soler, younger brother Michael Soler (106) and heavyweight Brandon Johnson (285) all won 4A titles.
“This means a lot,” Eric Soler said. “I felt like it was my team. These guys look up to me, and follow me around.”
Of course, an individual was in search of greatness – Velarde, who was not only searching for a fourth 2A title, but he wanted to win it for his mother, Suzie, the day before her birthday.
No question, Velarde was in with a bull in Reddaway, who had been wrestling at 152 much of the season before cutting to the lower weight class.
“He is an ox of a guy,” Velarde said.
And Reddaway kept the match where it needed to be for him to pull off one of the greatest upsets in Mat Classic history – in the center of the ring, with both wrestlers circling each other.
“As I was going into OT, I was pretty confident,” Reddaway said. “But he’s a tough wrestler. He is tough in every position – top, bottom or neutral.”
Tied at 1-1, Velarde finally got a hold of his opponent’s leg and clinched the winning takedown with 36.4 seconds to go in overtime. Afterward, he sprinted up the steps to the Tacoma Dome upper seating to hug his mother.
“This is cool, you know,” Velarde said. “The elite fraternity - I am in it.”
And he could have more company as soon as next year when Mead’s Chandler Rogers (pin in 3:39 over Evergreen of Vancouver’s Anthony Thomas at 4A 170) and Klahowya’s Bobby Reece III (3-1 winner over Centralia’s Cole Riccardo at 2A 160) go for their respective fourth Mat Classic titles.
For Rogers, that dream might have started on a mat in Spokane, but it really took off in his older brother Jordan’s bedroom two years ago. Jordan Rogers was a three-time 4A champion at Mead, and now wrestles for Oklahoma State.
“It was the night he got appendicitis (right before Mat Classic), and it was very emotional,” Rogers said. “He said, ‘It’s not me, it’s you now, bro.’
“(Next year) is going to be awesome. Our freshman year, me and Bobby were both nervous. When he won, I thought this (winning four titles) was possible. Nothing is out of reach.”Todd Milles: 253-597-8442